In Tacoma, Wash., in 2002, three very young boys – a 6-year-old and two 4-year-old twins – were removed from their home and placed in the care of Ronald and Wendy Young.
Licensed foster care providers, the couple turned their home into an even darker nightmare. In that home, the young boys were subjected to horrific and relentless sexual abuse that lasted for nearly two years, and was well-documented by Ronald Young in nearly 800 photographs he distributed to other like-minded pedophiles through the Internet.
Though he is serving 25 years in the Washington state prison system, the pictures live on, and in November they were found on the computer of Ball State University student Joseph Topp in his dorm room. And the 20-year-old Topp, an Angola native, shared the pictures as well.
In July, Topp pleaded guilty to a single charge of distribution of child pornography and faces more than five years in prison when he is sentenced in November.
He also faces a $5 million restitution claim from the anonymous Washington boys – now teenagers and living with their adoptive family.
Whether Topp will have to pay, or should have to pay, is a matter vexing courts around the country, even as the practice of filing restitution claims in child pornography cases is growing.
The case of Doyle Randall Paroline vs. U.S. is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court – asking specifically what, if any, relationship between the defendant’s possession of child pornography and the victims’ harm must be established in order to claim restitution.
A few other such claims have been filed in the Hammond division of the Northern District of Indiana, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has already weighed in, but Topp’s case is the first in the Fort Wayne division.
In 1977, there were about 250 known magazines distributing pornographic images of children, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The first federal law governing child pornography was not passed until 1978.
But with the creation and increasing availability of the Internet, the numbers of images available, and access to them, exploded.
The first laws dealing with computers and child pornography appeared in 1988, according to the Department of Justice.
The pictures Topp downloaded contained images from what is known as the “8 kids series” or the “Erik series,” according to court documents.
A year ago, federal law enforcement estimated that any one time, there are more than 1 million pornographic images of children on the Internet, with about 200 new images posted every day.
Other victims identified in other “series,” most commonly “Vicky” or “Misty,” have also filed restitution claims, including in northern Indiana. The “Misty” series has been passed around and traded since 1998, according to court documents.
Victims of child pornography – the boys and girls whose abuse was chronicled and distributed – are granted the right to pursue restitution under the 1994 Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
They also can receive notifications from the FBI’s Child Pornography Victims Assistance Program every time someone is arrested for possessing one of their images.
For the family of “Vicky,” the notices filled two 55-gallon drums, according to an article in the American Bar Association magazine.
In the Topp case, one of the victims filing a claim said that “each time someone downloads the pictures showing me being raped and abused I picture some pervert enjoying self gratifying pleasure from my pain.”
And, he wrote, each new victim notification envelope marks another example of someone profiting financially or sexually from his pain, according to court documents.
Messages left with attorneys who filed restitution claims for the “8 kids series” and the “Amy” series were unreturned.
Local psychologist David Lombard, who has counseled both victims and child abusers, said that the notifications really do represent a new victimization every time they arrive.
“In the digital age, these pictures are forever,” he said.
You can’t scrub the World Wide Web clean of the images, and they will be there for a long, long time – if not forever.
A victim could be well into adulthood, and the notifications reminding them of what occurred when they were 4 or 5 years old take them right back to that age of vulnerability and the event itself.
“In their mind it just happened,” Lombard said.
Victims of any crime are eligible for monetary compensation to cover medical services, including counseling; physical or occupational therapy; transportation and child care expenses; lost income; attorney’s fees; and any other loss suffered by the victim as a proximate result of the offense.
In the requests for restitution, attorneys for the victims document the potential in lost wages, hours in therapy, and ongoing pharmaceutical treatment.
They document chronic PTSD, depression, mental disabilities, and other problems that abate slowly over time, if at all.
In March 2011, “Vicky” filed a restitution claim in the case of Mark Ontiveros, seeking $983,766 in losses. She filed another claim in the case against Christopher Laraneta.
“Amy,” the unnamed victim in the “Misty” series, filed a claim against Laraneta as well, seeking $3.3 million, according to court documents.
Both victims have received millions of dollars in hundreds of restitution orders from federal courts around the country, and those awards have been appealed all over the U.S.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court to have the judge redetermine the amount of restitution, and also to determine whether Larenata had merely possessed the photos or distributed them as well.
But the court found that defendants in child pornography cases could not seek restitution from other child pornography defendants in paying the victims’ restitution, even though others may have contributed to the damage.
Citing earlier cases involving the victims, federal prosecutors said in a document filed in June, “this is not a case in which Defendant has simply thrown a match onto an already raging fire. It is widely accepted … the viewers and distributors of the child pornography depicting Vicky caused the losses she has suffered.”
Prison sentences, probation, court-ordered treatment – those are punishments.
And punishments, said Lombard, are about the perpetrators.
But restitution – whether in the form of a lengthy apology letter or millions of dollars in payments – is about the victims.
What the victim needs always depends on the victim, and it is really up to them to decide, he said.
Restitution awards in criminal cases do little, if anything, to alter the behavior of the defendants, or to deter others from participating in the same behavior, Lombard said.
To see it as such is kind of missing the point, he said.
“Restitution is not just about the dollar amount,” Lombard said. “It’s about giving the person a sense that something is being fixed, to give them a sense of the world being fair … Something was given to help fix the damage.”